Technology and Automation
Since the introduction of robots on the GM line in the early 1960s, the world has seen a revolution in automated manufacturing. Today, there are myriad applications for industrial robots across many industries, which has led to major growth in the robotics sector. While the entire industrial robot sector has seen growth over that time, the most exciting and fastest growing segment belongs to collaborative robots (or ‘cobots’). According to market research firm Interact Analysis the market for cobots, which was worth less than USD400m in 2017, will reach USD7.5bn and account for 29 percent of the entire global industrial robot market by 2027.
Cobots are growing in popularity due to their flexibility, safety, small footprint, rapid ROI, low TCO and user-friendliness. Keep reading to learn more about how automation and cobots are used today and why these technological solutions are so popular.
What industries rely on cobots?
Robotics and automation technology in the form of cobots have found a wide array of industrial applications including assembly, dispensing, welding, finishing, material handling, material removal, and quality testing.
UR cobots are used in eight major industry sectors: food and agriculture; furniture and equipment; electronics and technology; metal and machining; automotive and subcontractors; plastic and polymers; pharma and chemistry; and scientific and research.
This list continues to grow as new opportunities to benefit from collaborative automation are discovered.
What are the technologies used for automation?
The success of the automation industry is dependent on a variety of hardware and software technologies. While machines are capable of completing a number of tasks in businesses or on factory floors, they need to be combined with the correct software and end-effectors in order to be truly effective. Here are four types of automation in use today.
Traditional industrial robots are large machines that require safety fencing or caging. Expensive to purchase and operate, these traditional robots are difficult to program and tend to be geared toward a single purpose. No surprise then, that the industrial sector is increasingly interested in cobots automating manufacturing. Cobots are smaller and more flexible than traditional industrial robots. They are also safer, which allows them to be deployed alongside human employees on a variety of tasks, from machine tending and quality inspection to finishing and packaging & palletizing.
Artificial intelligence, or AI, plays an increasingly important role in industry. In fact, AI is considered to be an essential component of Industry 4.0 –a vision of future manufacturing that combines the best in data communications, real-time analysis and human-robot collaboration. When machines are equipped with AI, they can learn how to respond to a variety of different scenarios.
The Nvidia Jetson AGX Xavier is designed to speed training on neural networks and can be used with cobots from Universal Robots.
For example, remote monitoring edge devices enable cobot users to monitor, troubleshoot and program their cobots remotely. The Nvidia Jetson AGX Xavier Developer Kit enables the development and deployment of end-to-end, AI-enabled robotics applications at scale, including advanced neural networks. And Autodesk Fusion 360 is an easy to use, cloud-based CAD/CAM software package that can generate multiaxis toolpath files based on 3D models. These packages are available through the UR+ platform.
Modeling and simulation
Using technology and automation effectively requires planning and an understanding of the final product. Manufacturers rely on modeling and simulation to gain a better perspective of how their products should function. This makes it simpler to adapt and change designs, plan for potential issues, and visualize the outcome. Simulation software is widely used when deploying traditional industrial robots, driven by the high cost and low flexibility of traditional robotics systems. While cobots can be modeled in simulation software, for the vast majority of cobot deployments this step simply isn’t necessary –instead of spending hours modeling the application, cobot users can simply choose an appropriate end-effector, perform a safety assessment and then move the cobot into position to test its performance.
Computer vision technology can be used across many industries to help guide robots and inspect products. Computer vision is incredibly accurate and can be used to identify even the smallest imperfections. Vision systems and sensors can also be used for part location and metrology applications.
OnRobot’s Eyes is a flexible vision system that offers plug and play compatibility with UR cobots.
OnRobot Eyes, for example is a vision system with a 2.5D camera that can be mounted on a Universal Robots cobot wrist, or externally. Eyes provides rapid, one-picture calibration and part recognition, and programming is intuitive and fast through URCap software that runs on the Universal Robots teach pendant.
Why is automation and technology so attractive to manufacturers?
There are many aspects of manufacturing that can be improved by the introduction of technology and automation.
Solving labor shortages
Labor shortages pose a very real threat to the success of manufacturing industries. Some areas of the world are seeing their current workforce reach retirement age without the presence of younger workers to take over their roles. This has important consequences. On one hand, there are not enough people to fill the hours needed for effective production. Additionally, older workers may not be able to complete strenuous, repetitive, or fine-motor tasks as effectively as they used to.
Automation can solve these problems. In areas where there is simply not enough human labor available, for example, manufacturers can deploy a cobot. And because cobots and humans can safely occupy the same workspace, cobots enable companies supplement the capabilities of existing staff. Instead of replacing human workers, cobots can take over the repetitive and dangerous tasks, freeing humans to work on higher value jobs. Since workers with little or no previous robotics experience can easily train to use a cobot from Universal Robots, deploying cobots also provides upskilling opportunities as workers move from performing repetitive jobs, such as quality inspection and machine tending to programming cobots and monitoring their performance.
Automation can help companies streamline production processes, leading to increased production and improved quality outcomes. Whether deployed on assembling, welding, sanding, inspection or other tasks cobots can operate quickly, reliably and consistently. And unlike their human counterparts, robotic workers can function around the clock, 365 days a year, which enables companies to increase output by implementing extra shifts and/or lights out production.
Lowering long term costs
A primary benefit of automation is the lower cost of production over time, due to improvements in production processes. They also are more precise and efficient, which leads to less wasted material. Additionally, when robots take over dangerous tasks from human workers, there are fewer costs associated with workplace injuries.
UR cobots in particular are a flexible, one-time solution designed to meet a wide range of industrial needs. They are designed to be user-friendly, which means that in most cases programming and troubleshooting UR cobots can be performed by the end user.
Robotics and automation technology are able to guarantee a level of quality that human labor cannot match. Even the most experienced and precise human workers will introduce some degree of error, such as overtightening or misaligning screws or failing to apply an even coat of paint over a large surface. In all cases, automation dramatically reduces the amount of error.
For example, Ohio-based manufacturer thyssenkrupp Bilstein successfully deployed UR10s in an application inspecting automotive suspension parts. “When we did the gauge inspection before, we would check two parts every one or two hours to make sure we were still where we thought, but now we have 100 percent inspection,” said Doug McIe, Manufacturing Engineer. The cobot deployed in the final assembly is equipped with a vision camera and moves swiftly between inspection points to make sure that all components are in the right position and that the label is applied correctly and is readable. “Every single part that comes is checked and if it fails, the robot actually rejects it in the process,” explained McIe.
What are some examples of automation?
With so many applications and benefits to incorporating technology, countless manufactures have introduced automation to their businesses and factories. Let’s take a brief look at how automation plays a role in the automotive, electronics, and furniture industries.
There are many opportunities for the implementation of robotics and automation in the automotive industry, including machine tending, assembly and quality inspection.
Installing a cobot-powered inspection cell in its factory enabled Comprehensive Logistics to achieve 100 per cent quality in automotive engine assembly.
U.S.-based contract manufacturing specialists, Comprehensive Logistics used a UR10 cobot outfitted with a vision system for engine inspection tasks. The deployment resulted in increased throughput and improved product quality.
Cobots are also an excellent solution for electronics manufacturers that need a flexible robot that they can easily adapt to a wide range of parts and processes.
The Scott Fetzer Electrical Group (SFEG) is one such company. It manufactures a variety of high mix/small batch products and the company’s production processes change on a daily basis. SFEG uses a UR5 and UR10 on sheet metal handling tasks in the company’s production facility to provide the required adaptability. Each day, the cobots are assigned to the area they are needed the most, whether that be cutting a blank on the blanking press to forming, folding and final assembly of electrical components.
Scott Fetzer Electrical Group mounted its UR cobot on wheels so workers could quickly deploy it in different locations.
Furniture and equipment
Furniture production benefits immensely when automation is introduced. For example, cobos can be used to assemble, glue, and weld products together. They can also be used for inspection tasks and even for packaging and palletizing of the final product.
Consider the example of Franke, a Swiss company that manufactures kitchen equipment. Franke has high demand –around 10,000 per year and growing-- for its kitchen sinks, which require assembly and gluing. The company deployed a UR5 robot on their production line to ensure even, 360-degree dispensing of the adhesive needed to attach mounting blocks.
Franke increased productivity and worker satisfaction following the deployment of a UR5 cobot arm from Universal Robots on its production line.
The UR5 solution provides pinpoint precision and uses only a pre-specified amount of glue for each join. In addition to the other benefits provided by its UR5 cobot deployment, this saves Franke on unusable/damaged stock and wasted materials.
There are few physical production processes that cannot be eased or solved with the introduction of automation. The manufacturing industry is adapting each year by integrating AI, robotics, edge devices and sensors into their processes. The most exciting and fastest growing segment of the industrial robotics market is collaborative robots. Cobots provide fast ROI, are easy to deploy, offer low TCO and are safe to operate around humans without fencing. Universal Robots pioneered -and remains at the forefront of-- the collaborative robot movement.
If you have questions about Universal Robots’ products and how they might benefit your company, please talk to an automation expert today!